BMW iVentures officially opened the doors to its New York office this week, and inaugurated its new space with a panel discussion on digital technology and mobility.
The $100 million fund has already seeded U.K.-based Parkatmyhouse.com and MyCityWay, which will lease space in BMW's trendy West Village office. The firm plans to invest primarily in urban mobility technologies to solve the transportation needs of the future. But the hot topic of the evening was, of all things, parking.
Speaking in front of an audience made up mostly of VC groupies and techies angling for a free drink and an introduction to fund managers, panelists seemed to unanimously agree that the practice of finding a place to park your car was 20 years behind the times. In an industry where advanced technology is considered a gate or the capability to take a credit card, there is obviously a lot of room for improvement.
"I consider parking to be real estate badly managed," said Kurt Buecheler, vice president of Streetline, which produces networked parking sensors and parking solutions.
Because it's one of the last industries to digitize or embrace the latest technologies, it makes sense that venture capital firms would want to invest in solutions that will maximize its revenue-making potential. But why would a company whose motto is "the ultimate driving machine" be interested in something that has nothing to do with driving or machines?
"This is important for a premium brand like BMW to offer customers a premium parking experience," says Quay. "There's no reason why you need to look for change or a piece of paper in your pocket, or wonder if there is a space available when you get there. BMW will put the pieces of the puzzle together."
The technology to direct vehicles to available spaces has been around for years, and in fact is somewhat being tested by BMW in Germany using micronavigation maps. Buecheler said his company has been speaking with BMW and other automotive manufacturers about integrating its technology into cars, although nothing definitive has been announced.
But solving this part of the traffic equation will go a long way toward easing congestion. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of traffic in urban centers is caused by people driving in circles looking for a parking space. And taking cars off the road sooner will also make it easier for roads to accommodate more vehicles when population is expected to swell in the next few decades.
To start, BMW will begin integrating Parkatmyhouse.com in its vehicles this year in the U.K., and may roll this feature out in other countries as well..